Android N Moving Towards Creating Virtual Reality Platform
This week the second Android N Developer Preview was launched and is has brought support for new emojis, Vukan and a couple UI tweaks. Buried inside the new update are a few references to virtual reality. It appears that apps will soon be able to register themselves what we would call “VR Helper” or “VR Listener”.
To see this in the latest Android N you navigate to the Settings -> Apps -> Configure apps (the top right gear button) -> Special Access -> VR helper services. It seems this will work in the same way as the “Notification Access” screen (the Android Wear being used to bring notifications to a smart watch) – list of apps that plug into this API will be shown on the VR helper services screen and this will make users deny or allow their permission.
There is a permissions warning related to the VR services in the settings strings that declares “[app name] will be able to run when you are using applications in virtual reality mode”. It seems that the helper will be able to pop up and do something when Android kicks into whatever VR mode it is. We are not sure what it is and also not sure how comprehensive this “Virtual Reality Mode” is.
Currently, the Google Cardboard app is the only Google VR product, but there have been rumors that Google is going to make a big push for VR. It is rumored that Google is working on both a standalone VR headset and a smartphone-powered Gear VR-style headset. The Wall Street Journal also reported that Google is working on “a version of the Android operating system to power virtual-reality applications.” We could be seeing the first of that VR integration work via this helper service.
“Config_sustained Performance Mode Supported” is a new hardware support flag that is found in the Android N framework. Today, smartphone SoCs are very bad at something called “sustained performance”. Mobile chips have been mainly designed for 2D app usage, hence making them great at rotating up quickly loading a web page or an app and saving power by quickly going back to sleep. You will fast hit the chip’s thermal limit and the SoC will start to throttle if you push the GPU and CPU for a long period of time. The initial Gear VR couldn’t handle long usage and when it gets too hot it would actually boot the user out of the VR mode. A “Sustained performance mode” makes it seem that this will change the SoCs performance mode from a sprinter to a marathon runner which could be a great benefit to virtual reality and gaming.
With the Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard, and Project Tango all running virtual reality or even augmented reality programs on top of Android, it would be wise for Google to embrace this Android use case together with the official API support. Although with rumors from The Information, The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times, all would put this on the map as part of a bigger drive into virtual reality.
You can get an Android N preview for the Nexus 5X, 6, 6P and 9, the pixel C tablet and the General Mobile 4G. The Nexus Player version of the N preview update will soon be available.